She takes the tram, bus. He takes the bicycle.
She cooks the fish. He buys it.
She has no company for lunch. He has no company for dinner.
She opens the house. He locks it.
She cleans the clothes. He dries them.
She uses the water. He fills it up.
She has no sounds for company. He has the machines and the music.
She stitches his pant. He keeps it aside for stitching.
She counts the money. He withdraws it from the bank.
She lights up the morning agarbatti. He does the evening one.
She eats the local bakery cake for breakfast. He eats the same.
She sleeps on right side of bed. Alone. He sleeps on left side of bed. Alone.
Because she does the morning shift. And he does the night shift.
Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour Of Love) is about a middle class couple living in Calcutta, and their daily boring ordinary life. Nothing is exciting in this mundane routine, life is almost fifty-fifty in their chores. But the director captures the sight and sound of this ordinariness in almost meditative gaze, making it look gorgeous. Especially the soundscape of the city is captured in all its beauty. Close your eyes and you can hear everything which leaves strong visual impressions too – blaring loudspeakers, rattling wheels, waffling music, creaking doors, rumbling trams, a rustle here, a clank there, and few Bengali golden oldies.
A few sequences seem odd and jarring, like the one of cereals pouring in glass containers, so advertising-wala that it stood out from the rest of the mood of the film. But apart from that it’s a brave film and quite an extraordinary cinematic achievement for a first time filmmaker, much like Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court which released earlier this year. And Aditya Vikram has not only directed the film, but he has also written, edited, and shot it! Waoh! Seems like this year, the new kids are leaving the veterans far behind.
Also, since my last post on Court created quite a stir and i was accused of many things including having an agenda to pull it down, let me admit it that Labour Of Love also felt like fest-bait. But thankfully, it’s not selling a desi exotica story for the west. Though i never understood why fest-bait was a bad word. If you know the trick and it lends to the grammar of your story naturally, why not. A brave new voice with a beautiful film will disarm every criticism.
Coming back to the film, the Bengali title of the film Asha Jaoar Majhe (In between arrival and departure) is more apt than the English one – Labour Of Love. Because as the day ends and a new one begins, in between there’s magic hour for the characters. It’s so rare that it has become almost surreal. And this is where the film turns magical too. It’s heartbreaking as Ritwick Chakraborty’s eyes stare at Basabdutta Chatterjee leaving for work. That’s when it hits you. The price of recession, the hard work that goes in everyday boring, ordinary life – just for a cup of tea together. Love and longing in the time of recession.
i might be wrong but it seems like this is Basabdutta’s debut feature. Haven’t seen her before. And what a find! That serene face, those expressive eyes, she doesn’t need dialogues to convey anything. And there are no dialogues in the film.
i had tried to watch the film during Mumbai Film Festival. But as the sun was setting in real time on screen, i almost felt asleep, and then decided to walk out of the film. Was too tired. And this film needs all your patience and attention. Because the atmosphere is immersive. Like the sequence where you see on the wire, in close-up, the clothes are moving one by one, you know that Ritwick is hanging them for drying. But why and how are they moving. The mystery is solved later in the film – why and how the clothes moved. It’s simple, and beautiful. With meticulous detailing, Aditya Vikram captures many such moments of everyday routines. Like the way she tucks the bus ticket in her bangle, it bought a smile on my face. Aha, Calcutta, you beauty! So if you don’t get into it, try it later. Give it a chance. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but try it – you won’t know the taste till you try it. A rare experimental beauty, this one has got a limited release. But if you are among the lucky ones where it has released, catch it.